Encyclopedia Britannica says last printed copies ‘fly off the shelves’

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN

(CNN) – Only 800 printed sets of the multi-volume Encyclopedia Britannica are stacked in the company’s Kentucky warehouse, the company says, and when the last one sells, there’ll be no more.

It could be just a matter of days.

“They are flying off the shelves,” Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, told CNN Friday.

Just three weeks after the publisher of the iconic encyclopedia announced it would be ceasing print production after 244 years, more than 3,000 printed copies of the final edition, the 2010 version, have sold at the standard price of $1,395 Cauz said.

New versions of the coveted 32-volume set, which up until the last decade was peddled by door-to-door salesmen, will now be available exclusively on the Internet.

News of the publishing shutdown rattled consumers enough to cause a spike in sales to 1,050 a week, company spokesman Peter Duckler told CNN. Before the announcement, the company averaged a mere 60 sales a week.

Worldwide, the company is now selling 150 copies a day, Duckler said.

Cauz said he wasn’t sure if the printed copies would last more than a few days.

The encyclopedia’s end adds to a trend that is seeing newspapers, magazines, books and journals turn into online URL addresses almost daily.

One nostalgic customer, who wasted no time ordering one of the last published sets when he heard they’d soon be gone forever, called the transition the “passing of an era.”

“I remember being so engrossed in all the things you could possibly know,” David Wise of Chicago told CNN.

Wise,44, had a hand-me-down encyclopedia set from his aunt and uncle, and fondly recalls reading it every night before dinner in his youth.

“I have young kids. I thought, there’s no way I’m not going to let them have that experience,” he said.

Wise recalled his family’s set was missing the “F” volume.

“There was a slight gap in my education,” he joked.

For Wise, the encyclopedia series encompasses not only what one can learn from the content of the books, but how much society has learned over time.

“In the first edition they didn’t know what California was,” Wise told CNN. “Now we’re studying intergalactic space!”

The first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, dating back to 1768, takes up no more than 8 inches on his desk. The newest version covers multiple shelves on his bookcase.

Wise says the encyclopedia catalogs “a robust explosion of human knowledge.”

While Wise mourns the loss of a cherished a tradition, Cauz, 55, is less than disheartened about having to retire the printed version, along with its hard covers and pages that must be turned by hand.

“The youth has an attachment to the digital screen,” he, explained. “That’s how they learn and explore, and so that’s where we will be.”

Cauz celebrates the company’s ability to mold with the changing times, adapt to technological advancements, and enhance the experience for customers new and old.

He said even Internet subscriptions have spiked since the announcement of print cessation.

“Society still pays high regard to facts and scholarly knowledge,” he said. “The whole idea of Britannica being alive and vibrant is here.”

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